. Scientific Frontline: Child obesity linked to increased risk of several types of diabetes as an adult

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Child obesity linked to increased risk of several types of diabetes as an adult

Yuxia Wei, doctoral student at Institute of Environmental Medicine and the study's first author.
Photo Credit: Jingwei Zhao

Child obesity is linked to an increased risk of suffering from diabetes in adulthood and the risk increase concerns both autoimmune forms of diabetes and various forms of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in Diabetologia. For example, the risk of suffering from the most insulin-resistant form of diabetes is three times as high for obese children.

Diabetes affects about seven percent of the adult population and is one of the world's fastest growing diseases. Diabetes has traditionally been divided into two subgroups, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but research suggests that this is a gross simplification.

In 2018, a Swedish study identified five subgroups of adult-duty diabetes. These are characterized by autoimmunity, severe insulin deficiency, severe insulin resistance, obesity and high age, respectively.

Diabetes affects about seven percent of the adult population and is one of the world's fastest growing diseases. Diabetes has traditionally been divided into two subgroups, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but research suggests that this is a gross simplification.

In 2018, a Swedish study identified five subgroups of adult-duty diabetes. These are characterized by autoimmunity, severe insulin deficiency, severe insulin resistance, obesity and high age, respectively.

One way to elucidate the relevance of these subgroups is to investigate whether the influence of known risk factors for diabetes differs between the proposed types of diabetes, according to the researchers.

"Our study is one of the first attempts to find out. Child obesity has been linked to several chronic diseases, but has never been studied in relation to the recently proposed subgroups of diabetes, say Yuxia Wei, doctoral student at Institute of Environmental Medicine and the study's first author

Wanted to investigate the effect of child obesity

The purpose of the present study was therefore to see if the effect of childhood obesity differs. The researchers used a method called Mendelian randomization, which uses genetic information to study the correlation between an environmental risk factor and disease risk while taking into account the impact of other risk factors.

Basing their analysis on genetic data from over 400,000 participants in a British biobank called UK Biobank, the researchers compared children who considered themselves larger than other children with children who rated their weight as normal.

The results showed that overweight/obesity in childhood was linked to a 62 per cent higher risk of autoimmune diabetes, a doubling of the risk of diabetes characterized by insulin deficiency, almost a tripling of the risk of the most insulin-resistant form of diabetes and a seven-times higher risk of the form of diabetes primarily characterized by overweight. 

“Our analyses show that children who are larger than others are more likely to develop four of the five proposed new subgroups of adult-onset diabetes,” says Wei. “In other words, obesity in childhood seems to be a risk factor in effectively all types of adult diabetes, with the exception of age-related diabetes. This underscores how important it is to prevent obesity in children since it can have lasting effects on their future health.”

Published in journalDiabetologia

Additional information: The study was a collaboration among researchers at Karolinska Institutet, Bristol University (UK) and Sun Yat-Sen University (China).

Source/CreditKarolinska Institutet

Reference Number: med022823_02

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